tv Tavis Smiley PBS December 2, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
tavis: good evening. smiley. tonight, part two of our conversation with the iconic harry belafonte. he is out with a new memoir called "my song." learn about his on likely path to success and his views on the current state of affairs. we are glad you joined us. coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic
empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. tavis: backed now with part two of our conversation with harry belafonte. the film is "sing your song". pick up a copy of his memoir, "my song." we left our conversation last night with me asking you about
the path you had to take to find the good and how to win them to your side in this movement for civil rights in the country. you were talking last night about mccarthy and mccarthyism. pick up on the story on how you pull the kennedys on to your side. >> the credit-kennedys were not an option. there was a vast arena waiting for an opportunity to interface with us and our movement. these are people who were by destiny given these jobs of authority and power. they controlled so much of the gear box in which our movement had to go. if you did not get the president on your side, if he did not get bobby kennedy on your side, then your task would be far more daunting.
getting them on your side. when dr. king said find his moral center, when him to our cause, this was in the of not even knowing the man. -- in lieu of not even knowing the man. we did not meet on the corner, we did not have a social engagement. we were in a world, a society that was fiercely adversarial from the point of view of race. distractedthat was scarcel by the lust for power and greed -- buthe central to our culture. with all these forces coming at you, if you are the oppressed, you have to find a way in which to work through this. you can do it violently, or you
can do it as dr. king suggested. to find this methodology through nonviolence, to try to find a way in which to redeem relations with individuals. i did not much believe in the idea of nonviolence. after all, non-violence was the teachings of christ, the most powerful institution to rise up from the legacy was the church. i did not find a place more oppressive or more crowells, not just from a large sense of violence but in the daily since the violence. a priest to a that was willing to molest little boys and to lead them in a hierarchy system that protected them from this mischief and did not bring any justice. i was one of those children in catholic school going through the experiences of the nuns. tavis: you were not atheist or
agnostic. i hear -- we had this conversation. you had a problem with the church. for you ever then or now atheist or agnostic? >> i became atheistic. turning against the church, that meant i had to turn against the teachings of my family who were for the church and caught in it. every time i tried to turn, and all i saw was the demonic, the lucifer of the journey, the catholic church had strict racial attitudes, intolerance for anyone who was not catholic. i look at a lot of black ministers and what went on in the black c who were in cadillacs and shiny suits that i was with those who were quieter in their style.
when dr. king stepped into my life, and i found i had to become engaged within reason of him, it was his vision of how he saw our task that attracted me deeply to the idea i thought his idea was the best i had heard. i have often said that -- paul rosen gave me the spine for my manhood, dr. king gave me my spirituality. between these two men, these fierce forces that nurtured me, i found i and then all i needed to have to endorse the meeting -- mission i had was correct and dr. king, when he and i met i said i am not of the church. i am from the church and i look at the church with great caution. whether it is catholicism, what
they did with the great historical evil that they did, when you look at those who most morally justified slavery, you will find that the church was central to that fact. there are all these things that are in your way. dr. king said much of the sentiments i have expressed to him were very much his own. he felt very much the same way about a lot in the church and he felt those facts alone would give us a good rise. >tavis: he was himself a man of the cloth. when you mentioned king, at the end of the kennedy years and johnson years, you cannot talk about king without talking about his opposition to the war, he said famously, the war is the enemy of the poor.
where we started our conversation last night talking about the poor. we sat together the last time, it was a special i was doing for pbs. we sat together at riverside, a church in new york for a one- hour special about dr. king's beyond vietnam speech. it did not occurred to me to ask this question then but after reading your tax, you're more, it occurs to me to ask you now. how a guy who served in world a enlistedu were in military man. how have you juxtaposed your being part of the mill -- military fighting to defend your country in world war ii and being so unapologetically anti- war? >> in my youth i saw the war as an instrument in defense of something for which are held
greatest team. and most of it was through the instruction of my mother who was fiercely anti-racist. she struggled against poverty, she struggled for all the rights and dignity of a woman. coming from jamaica, she was a neat package for all of us. in her struggle, her council, i will never forget when italy invaded ethiopia. my mother's indignation at that, the great sense of crisis that existed for her was to watch these people who are like your own people from the mountains of jamaica. it is not by any stretch of the imagination the rastafarians and the tribute to the land of judah and jah and all that comes from abyssinian tradition, ethiopia was invaded by italy. my mother was furious about that
the church for blessing italian soldiers to go off and kill these barefoot black people in africa at for a reason other than the loss of conquest, and she said that she felt that struggle was our struggle, the forces that were crossing ethiopia and crushing so much of europe and the world of large -- at large. they were the final vision of what would happen to a society that fulfilled its mission if its mission was racist. that was defined and designed. we created the apartheid system that helped south africa create one of the most cruel societies in modern history. all these things work in our basket. and therefore anything that we could commit to that stem the
tide for what was to come would be an engagement of honor. so for me volunteering for the second world war, i heard that what paley selassie -- hailie selassi had to say. interpreting it from the african and developing world points of history. what the people in the far east had to say about the french colonialism, who conquered them in the japanese tra. all these places were in turmoil. and to walk into the fray was very much a war that we belong to and all the people i respected were part of that. when i came out of the war, and expected this triumphant
experience for the victors, we had defeated hitler, we have been assured there would be no more room to discuss racial superiority because we had killed off, only to come back to fighting here in america, especially black servicemen were treated more cruelly than anyplace else in the world. people who were black servicemen who came back and went south who were murdered, who were lynched, who just disappeared and never had been heard from since. cases would still reside in the books of our many states as missing people. when you saw this as an ex-gis looking at what was happening to us, we felt we had a struggle here. that struggle is to get it on. we can acquiesce to the rules of the day which was more oppressive racist laws that we have ever known. we can resist it which meant
going into a place of rebellion. in that place of rebellion in walks the showman in the martin luther king. so many others were feisty, ready to meet at the gates of violence to thrash out this questions. along came doctor camking who showed me this device. what appealed to me was the brilliance of the strategy, non- violence as a tactic against oppression. and then to see what happens when you really got into the philosophy of it. and began to apply it to, it became the supreme tool for us. tavis: the we've got into this story, this answer to this question about to or anti-war position, is not unlike the way you started actors to a number of questions tonight and last
night. i want to go back to your mother. you did a lot to make her mother proud but you did one thing that you wrote about that was not such a proud moment. that is not finishing your education. i want to come back to that because it never ceases to amaze me how brilliant you are, how and sparring you are, how expressive you are, how all that you are without having finished her education. how did you accomplish all of this? i do not mean the acting and singing. i am talking about all this. you did not finish school by your own admission. >> not finishing school for me could be viewed as an aspect of the learning process. i am still learning. everywhere i go every day. something reveals itself that i really need to know and to
embrace. i am quite open to embracing the knock at the door, whatever it may be. my life has been built more on coincidences' then things that i specifically set out for myself and went out and achieved. so that -- my mother was a little girl on the plantation in jamaica. she after learning her abcs could not wait to show her father how much she had achieved in learning the alphabet and scripting. when she felt she got to a level of perfection as a little girl, she took it to her father and said, look at what i am doing and tried to get him to commit himself to further help her get more instruction, to center to another village to a dance studies and he looked at it and said, if you can do that much, you got all you need to know. we need another hand in the
field. instead of being rewarded for running so well in her world of academics, she was taken away from it and send back into the field to become a slave. that crasher terribly. and became central to her view of oppression from another perspective. her mother, -- father, male, man. not an unusual story in the caribbean and how that society reveals itself historically. but my mother took this with her and when she came to america, among the many opportunities she saw here was a chance to move ahead educationally. she went into school at the y and became a seamstress and learned how to sew and learned the alphabet herself and to get into these while pulling her children with her.
what happened to me, i also talk about god has a sense of humor. i was struck with a learning disability but no one knew anything about it. i was filled with discontent, could not focus in the classroom. teachers were frustrated with my destruction. when i left school, there was always a celebration that i was out of the school rather than having stayed because teachers were overcome with my distractibility. and what it was was it was an extreme case of dyslexia. i could not keep words in focus. they skipped and inverted and all the problems we face. nobody knew what that was. it measured against my appearance, i did not seem to be living up to my potential. i was living up to my native intelligence appeared to be as opposed to the failure of my academic pursuit. in that context, when i got to
school, i was struggling desperately to cope. i could not handle it. and i left. that broke my mother's heart forever. tavis: it is hard to know -- there is not enough time. it is hard when, and i do not do this often. it is hard to take a book of this dance and a life of this rich and try to make sense out of it in 30 minutes. even 60 minutes from last night and tonight. i have chosen to not focus so much of our conversation on your entertainment life because people know that so well. these parts of it. the part i think people did not know which i find fascinating reading your detail of it in the book is how this raspy voice of yours came to be. we all know you from day-o. you go to nba games and at some point somebody will play the
song. your stuff is everywhere. we know that wonderful musical gift you have had for your entire life. are you the on-your the only person i know who have that voice and made it work for you. had a surgery that went wrong, that made you sound this way. this voice is as much of signature, this raspy, rich, the tones and timbre. >> get out of here. tavis: that voice is a part of you as day-o was back in the day. embroidered -- how embittered were you that that voice was taken away from you? >> the voice was taken away from me before the surgery. i cannot blame the loss of the voice on the surgery.
describe that to other things. misuse of the instrument. i pushed myself beyond my physical capacity, my ability. when you look at louis armstrong, ray charles, cocker, all the great singers that had these sounds, i was in great company. i mean, look at what they did. i do not profess to have their gift. i certainly have their sound. my problem was i did not come from any specific school of musical tradition. i had to make a mime the repertoire. i had to make a pool was. -- i had to make my repertoire. i had to make who i was. the call me a folksinger and i am not too sure. i once asked, what is a folk singer? i never heard a horse sing.
i went about my life approaching is it not from the point of view of a singer but an actor. that is how i first started to sing. i had a part, it was required to sing and i found out how to approach it from the point of view and i did it. it was the rewards that came from that practice. everything at when actor -- after was based on how i approached a song as an actor. not hall my musical instrument was. what i delighted in was so many people found what i did to be so attractive. and it requires that you see me in the theater as opposed to hearing me on the record. i think what you see in the theater is part of the experience there reveals musically.
it talks about my life and the songs i have chosen to sing. the protest songs, the songs that embrace other races, the songs in many languages that i sing. in other audiences the appreciation from global audiences when he did that. i sang in japanese when i went to japan. i sang in greek when i went to greece. i sang in spanish. i could not speak it very well but i was beautiful in singing it. these things have attracted people to the uniqueness of who was and the way in which i perform. as a consequence, that serve the political end which was to make me completely independent of the economics and the way in which life was designed for the artist in america. they're deeply dependent on how wall street finds this and the banks to finance and commodity
defines this and what industry says. whether general motors lexus -- likes us, you are equated as an artist based on the likes and dislikes of those powers. how'd you get around them? i went directly to people and maintain a people relationship. no matter what they did for me. the blackness, i could not get on the air. i would go to hong kong. theaters were filled. i would go to lagos, wherever i went there was an audience and i defied the denial that was in the hands of the power elite. if the sponsor did not likely, i could not care less. what you're asking me to do is give up what i believe in. i believe it not to be only morally correct but -- not only morally correct but most desired
and to give that up to be anointed by your product, there is no bargain here. i will just be who i am. tavis: you have done the remarkably well. for the 85 years now. 85 years young. harry belafonte is an authentic american hero. i have had him on this program 22 years. the documentary gets into more texture about his life. go to hbo and pick up the new book, "my song". it details of life very much lived until this moment. if i were ever to marry a man, it would be you. >> i am glad i can compete. tavis: that is our show until tonight. until next time, keep the faith. i am so heartened ♪
>> one day at a -- one-was on stage. paul robeson came to see me. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with kerry mulligan and shelby lynn. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every
answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> be